Massive Study of 10,000 Pot Studies Concludes More Study Needed

This is not the Onion. This is sarcasm-free real-world irony.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine teased out a massive report today compiling everything science has learned “conclusively” about cannabis from literally more than 10,700 weed studies that went before. The short form of the 395-page report’s 100 conclusions is that science knows less than it needs to know about marijuana’s benefits, risks, and long-term effects.

The report, titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research,” was compiled as a sort of super-academic crowd-sourced project drawing upon 16 scholars and researchers from several prestigious universities throughout the land. “The Current State of Evidence” presents its findings on a sliding scale of certainty.

The scientists suggest that nothing in the report—other than an agreement that marijuana’s Drug Enforcement Administration classification as a Schedule 1 substance is the primary barrier to decoding the secrets of pot’s chemical compounds—should be taken as gospel truth.

From Business Insider:

The language in the report is designed to say exactly how much we know—and don't know—about a certain effect. Terms like "conclusive evidence" mean we have enough data to make a firm conclusion; terms like "limited evidence" mean there's still significant uncertainty, even if there are good studies supporting an idea; and different degrees of certainty fall between these levels. For many things, there's still insufficient data to really say anything positive or negative about cannabis.

Taken with Business Insider’s prescribed grains of salt, “The Current State of Evidence” presents a handful of rallying points for cannabis cheerleaders, and a concurrent set of bullet points that will fuel pro-prohibitionist fires.

From the marijuana-positive column: Conclusive evidence points to weed being an effective treatment for chronic pain, muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, and puking caused by chemo. Less than conclusive but still compelling evidence suggests marijuana smoking is not cause for lung, head or neck cancers, and limited evidence raises the possibility that weed will provide anti-inflammatory effects.

Asthma research (via)

From the marijuana-neutral column: No clear indication of evidence supports whether weed is friend or foe to heart conditions and asthma.

From the weed-negative column: Substantial evidence links chronic marijuana smoking with developing schizophrenia and with contracting bronchitis over and over. Furthermore, solid evidence indicates that women who smoke weed while pregnant can expect to deliver babies with lower birth weights. Less conclusive evidence indicates prenatal pot consumption correlates with pregnancy complications and newborns landing in neonatal intensive care units. Some evidence exists that marijuana use has a connection to increased risk of car crash, that kids are more likely to accidentally eat weed edibles in states where some form of marijuana consumption is legal, and that users may be afflicted with depression or social anxiety disorder. A limited sliver of evidence noted avid marijuana use among men who develop a certain type of testicle cancer. Also limited is evidence leaning toward cannabis going hand in hand with impaired academic achievement in adolescents who smoke habitually.

“We're not really after the good or the bad. We're after the truth."

One great thing about the "Current State of Evidence” study is its authors' insistence that a perceived link between marijuana use and a particular health or life outcome—be that bronchitis, schizophrenia, lower birth weight, traffic collisions, or a shitty GPA—does not prove marijuana use is the cause of that outcome.

“The Current State of Evidence,” with its professed lack of certainties, gives advocacy groups, pro and con, plenty of wiggle room to cite the report as proving contradictory points of view.

Medical cannabis (via)

The Drug Policy Alliance, for instance, titles its summation of the accumulated evidence “Science Once Again Claims Marijuana Is Medicine in Landmark National Academy of Sciences Report.” 

A post written by San Francisco Chronicle staff writer David Downs appears under the headline “Landmark Study: Marijuana Is Effective Medicine, but Has Drawbacks.”

NBC News coverage of the research starts off under a cautionary slant: "Marijuana Users Risk Schizophrenia, But the Drug Helps Pain."

When the anti-weed Smart Approaches to Marijuana blog puts up its take on the massive “Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids” report, expect the focus to be on traffic accidents and neonatal intensive care.

Impartiality isn’t something you can realistically demand from partisan organizations. That’s why the methods and recommendations of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are so refreshing and encouraging.

“We're not really after the good or the bad,” Staci Gruber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital, told Business Insider. “We're after the truth."

Here’s hoping the government will allow Gruber and her colleagues to pursue that elusive prize.